Information about an untimely death or serious injury in our community is provided to the College community by an email message from the President or a member of the President’s Staff.

In some circumstances, the message may also be delivered by telephone and messaging systems using Emergency Notification communications.

Needed decisions are made by the President, in consultation with members of President’s Staff, the Chaplain, the Medical Director, Director of Public Safety, and area hospital, with input from others as appropriate.

When a death or serious injury occurs, the College Medical Director or an area hospital involved may contact the family first. The Dean of the College, Dean of the Faculty, Director of Human Resources or other official will then contact the family.  Please note that it is important that the first communication to the family of a victim must be done sensitively and appropriately by a medical official or by an appropriate College official.  Your support, as important as it may be, will come later.

The Dean of the College, Class Deans, Chaplain, Dean of the Faculty, or Director of Human Resources will work with, and offer support to, families and others who are affected.

The Vice President for Communications and/or Director of Public Affairs communicate with external media when that is appropriate. In some instances, the College Medical Director may assist in the communication.

Dealing with Crisis and the Traumatic Events

(Excerpts from Pace University Trauma Brochure, Rosa B. Ament, Ph. D., Director ofDevelopment & Personal Development Center)

What Is A Traumatic Experience?

A traumatic experience is an event in which an individual experiences, or witnesses an actual or threatened serious injury or death. The threat or actual occurrence may be to oneself or others. It is quite normal for people to experience emotional and physical after-shocks or stress reactions following a traumatic event. Sometimes these after-shocks appear immediately after the event. And sometimes it takes a few hours, days or even weeks before stress reactions appear. An individual’s response may include intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Depending on the severity of the event, the signs and symptoms of these reactions may last a few days, several weeks or months, or longer. The way an individual copes with crises depends on their own history and prior experiences. Sometimes these traumatic events are so painful that professional assistance may be necessary in order to cope with them.

What Is Crisis Intervention?

Crisis intervention offers immediate, intensive, and brief professional assistance to people who have had a traumatic experience. The purpose is to help an individual cope and return to a previous level of physical or emotional functioning without being at risk of endangering himself or others. This short-term professional support attempts to deal with the immediate crisis or problem. Its prompt and focused interventions help prevent the development of new coping skills to help the individual function more effectively.

Types of Crises

People filter threatening experiences through their own unique way of thinking and feeling. Depending on the trauma and one’s “filter”, some people may have less of a reaction while others may develop more severe symptoms. A number of crises may occur that can affect different groups of people like students, employees or society as a whole. At one end of the continuum these crises could include a strike, assault, physical injury, accident, death, suicide, robbery, homicide, and rape. Other events that affect a broader spectrum of people would include: fire, natural disasters, riots, terrorism and racial incidents. Crisis
intervention offers the immediate help that an individual in a crisis needs in order to reestablish equilibrium.

Secondary Trauma

People at risk for secondary traumatization are those other than the actual victims who are affected by the traumatic event. This may include friends, family and acquaintances of the victim or people who have
simply heard about the trauma or crisis. People who help trauma and crisis victims are sometimes at risk for secondary trauma as well. This may be due to consistent exposure to human suffering and possibly
feeling responsible for the safety of the victim.

Symptoms And Reactions

People whose normal lives are disturbed by a traumatic event find that their sense of Department of Public Safety and safety is shattered. They also find that their responses to life and other people are either greatly exaggerated or no longer exist. The following are some of the symptoms that one might encounter.

Possible Emotional Reactions

  • Intense emotion and reactivity: People may feel intense anxiety, pain, fear, shame, grief, horror, anger, and shock. They may also have difficulty relaxing or falling asleep.
  • Numbness: When people are overwhelmed, they may experience shock and protect themselves through detachment, denial and disbelief. They may feel isolated and disconnected from people or even their own normal feelings.
  • Depression: People may have difficulty concentrating or remembering. They may also experience diminished interest in everyday activities and have crying spells. A sense of despair and hopelessness may be evident.
  • Flashbacks: People often re-experience the traumatic event over and over again. The feeling of not having any control is heightened. They may feel tortured by the invading thoughts and memories.
  • Nightmares: These are like flashbacks but they occur in dreams. As a result, people may have difficulty sleeping. Re-experiencing the trauma intensifies the feelings of panic and helplessness.
  • Triggering events and people:Often, people will attempt to avoid anything associated with the trauma. Instead, they may respond to events that remind them of the trauma with all the feelings of
    the trauma itself.

Possible Physical Reactions

  • Aches and pains such as headaches, and backaches etc.
  • Weakness, dizziness, and fatigue most of the time.
  • Heart palpitations, profuse sweating and chills.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Changes in appetite and digestive problems.
  • Being easily startled by noises and/or unexpected touch.
  • Increased susceptibility to allergies, colds and illnesses.
  • Increased alcohol consumption and/or substance abuse.

How to Better Cope

  • Recognize your own feelings. Also understand that your feelings are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
  • Talk about the experience. Talk is healing.
  • Reach out to friends and family for support. Try to connect with others, especially those who may have shared the same stressful experience. Form a support group.
  • Set small realistic goals to help tackle obstacles. Take one day at a time and be kind to yourself.
  • Get as much physical activity as possible. Exercise or learn relaxation techniques or meditation in order to relax and feel rejuvenated.
  • Structure your time. Schedule breaks for yourself. Redefine your priorities and focus your energy on them.
  • Get involved in something that is personally meaningful and important everyday.
  • Give yourself time to heal.
  • Give someone a hug – touching is very important.

How to help Family Members and Others Cope

  • Listen and empathize. Be supportive and non-judgmental.
  • Be flexible with roles and chores.
  • Offer and ask for support from family, friends and community.
  • Respect a family member’s need for privacy and be more tolerant. Give each other space.
  • Set priorities and focus your attention on them with other family members.
  • Give yourself and your family members time to heal at their own pace. Make healing a family issue.
  • Re-assure children and the elderly. Reinforce the feeling of safety.
  • Validate each other. Show appreciation, give hugs and offer praise.
  • Utilize rituals which can reaffirm family bonds and help the healing process (for example, leaving flowers at an accident site or organizing a memorial service).
  • After some time has elapsed, focus and talk about how each person has changed or grown as a result of the experience.

Information for Families

Family Signs and Symptoms

Because they are confronted with the reactions of their responder to traumatic incidents, members of emergency service families also are prone to exhibiting signs and symptoms.

Research done by Charles Figley, a Florida psychologist, found that family members of emergency personnel who were exposed to traumatic incidents also began to show signs and symptoms of post-traumatic
stress. They include:

Physical Cognitive  Emotional
nausea slowed thinking anxiety/panic
tremors difficulty making decisions fear for responder
feeling uncoordinated confusion survival guilt
profuse sweating disorientation grief
chills depression feeling numb
diarrhea/constipation trouble concentrating sadness
dizziness memory problems irritable toward children
rapid heartbeat difficulty with names feeling lost
elevated B.P. distressing dreams feeling isolated from spouse
headaches poor attention span unappreciated by spouse
sleep disturbance difficulty calculating avoidance of spouse
decreased sexual activity problem-solving difficulty anger at spouse
easily startled memory lapses isolation

It is important to remember that these signs and symptoms, if they appear, are NORMAL. You are NORMAL, too. The only thing ABNORMAL is the event which triggered the signs and symptoms.

Remember, if any of these signs and symptoms turn up in your family, contact either your family doctor, a mental health professional, or the CISM Team whose phone number is listed elsewhere in this handout.Where you get help doesn’t matter, only that you get help. Don’t hesitate to call, and don’t wait.

What about the kids?

Kids, especially younger kids, react to stressful situations with some of the following signs:

  • Acting-out behavior
  • Regressive behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Protectiveness
    • We get protective of them
    • They get protective of us

When talking with your kids, remember:

  • Kids are much more concrete in their thinking than adults are. They don’t grasp abstract concepts.
  • Make sure you talk to them at a level they can comprehend.
  • “If you’re anxious, your kids will be anxious.”

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Adolescents exposed to trauma can develop PTSD more quickly because they haven’t developed the ability to process trauma.
  • Adolescents can be very self-centered, can react as if an event only impacts them.

Information for significant others - Critical incident stress

He/she may be experiencing normal stress responses to such an event (Critical Incident Stress). Critical Incident Stress affects up to 87% of all emergency personnel exposed to a critical incident. No one in emergency services is immune to Critical Incident Stress, regardless of past experiences or years of service. Your loved one may experience Critical Incident Stress at any time during his/her career.

Important things to remember about Critical Incident Stress:

  • The signs of critical incident stress are physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. Your loved one has received a handout outlining these signs. Please ask him/her to share it with you.
  • Critical incident stress responses can occur right at the scene, within hours, within days, or even within weeks.
  • Your loved one may experience a variety of signs/ symptoms of a stress response or he/she may not feel any signs at this time.
  • Suffering from the effects of critical incident stress is completely normal. Your loved one is not the only one suffering: other emergency personnel shared the event and are probably sharing the reaction.
  • The symptoms will normally subside and disappear in time if you and your loved ones do not dwell upon them.
  • All phases of our lives overlap and influence each other: personal, professional, family, etc.
  • The impact of critical incident stress can be intensified, influenced, or mitigated by our own personal, family, and current developmental issues.
  • Encourage, but DO NOT pressure, your loved one to talk about the incident and his/her reaction to it.
  • Talk is the best medicine. Your primary “job” is to listen and reassure. Remember that if an event is upsetting to you and your loved one, your children may be affected also. They may need to talk, too.
  • You may not understand what your loved one is going through at this time, but offer your love and support. Don’t be afraid to ask what you can do that he/she would consider helpful.
  • Accept the fact that life will go on:his/hers, your, your children’s, etc. Maintain or return to a normal routine as soon as possible.
  • If the signs of stress your loved one is experiencing do not begin to subside within a few weeks, or if they intensify, consider seeking further assistance. The Critical Incident Stress Debriefing team can help you and you loved one find a professional who understands critical incident stress and how it can affect you.

Learning more about Critical Incident Stress can help you cope with your role as an emergency service spouse. GreenMountain CISM welcomes spouses to all of our training programs.

In addition, Green MountainCISM offers a special course “Introduction to CISM for Families”which can help you understand what effect your responder’s Critical Incident can have on you and your family, and what you can do to help deal with those effects, what CISM services are available to you, and how to set up a family support group for your spouse’s emergency service agency.

If you would like more information on CISM services for Families, please contact Green Mountain CISM. We’ll be happy to schedule a family information course in your area.

Grief and Mourning

“You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?”(Kahlil Gibran)

Worden, J. William, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner

Grief: Emotional reactions to loss ranging from tears and sadness to guilt and rage and/or complete emotional devastation.

Mourning: The process of working through deep grief, loss, and change

Four Tasks of Mourning:

1.To accept the reality of the loss
2.To experience the pain of grief
3.To adjust an environment in which the deceased is missing
4.To withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship

Common Reactions

Denial                “Not me…”
Anger                 “How dare you…”
Bargaining          “If only…”
Depression          “Don’t leave me…”
Acceptance          “Hello, again…”

Signs of Grief

Feelings Thinking Physical Behaviors
sadness disbelief hollowness in stomach sleep disturbance
anger confusion tightness in chest appetite disturbance
guilt sense of presence tightness in throat absent-minded behavior
self reproach hallucinations over-sensitivity to noise social withdrawal
anxiety preoccupation sense of depersonalization dreams of deceased
loneliness   (nothing seems real including me) searching and calling out
helplessness   breathlessness avoiding reminders of deceased
fatigue   shortness of breath sighing
shock   weakness in muscles restless over-activity
yearning   lack of energy visiting places or carrying objects that remind survivor of deceased
emancipation   dry mouth treasuring objects that belonged to deceased

Sudden Death

Important Features:

1. Leaves survivors with a sense of unreality about the loss.
2. Feelings of intense guilt and incredible rage.
3. The need to blame someone is extremely strong.
4. Frequent involvement of legal, medical and departmental authorities, as well as high media interest.
5. Sense of helplessness in survivors.
6. Unfinished business.
7. Increased need to understand why the death happened.